Inside the “Renaissance Nude”

2 minutes read

The new art exhibition at the Getty Museum examines the development of nudity in European art between 1400 and 1530. Discover how perception and expression of naked or partially naked bodies evolve during this period in France, Italy, and Germany.

Here is a look at “The Renaissance Nude”

Beyond the ideal nude

The Renaissance nude was a sublimation of asceticism.  Artists developed different notions of beauty. They modeled idealized bodies: ideal proportions, youthful, beautiful, muscular and seductive forms. They also revealed  vulnerable bodies: aging, bloodied, tortured, etc

A myth of Pan by Dosso Dossi, 1524.



An evolution of representation

At the beginning of the period, artists represented mainly religious figures: Jesus Christ, Saints, Adam and Eve. Indeed, Christianity was dominant in Europe and largely influenced social, economic and religious life.

The body of Christ is a pious act of renunciation. Notice the different representations of his body, both divine and human.

Baptism of Christ by Pietro Vannucci. About 1498-1500.


By 1500 in Europe (1300 in Italy), the humanism movement grew. Inspired by Greek and Roman mythologies, artists shaped and mastered bodies accordingly. Their ultimate goal was to rival the great artists of antiquity.


Venus, the Roman goddess of love, was a famous figure depicted. Below is an example of the different representations. Titian alluded to a Venus raising from the sea with sensual motion and gestures (Venus brushing her hair) whereas Gossart praised a Venus more seductive and muscular posing on a pedestal.


Later on, the nude was personalized. Commissioned by aristocratic patrons, artists portrayed them, their mistresses and others beauties in flattering historical, religious or heroic scenes.

Virgin and Child by Jean Fouquet. About 1452-55

Above, French artist Jean Fouquet portrayed Agnes Sorel, the mistress of King Charles VII of France. Scandalous with her nude breast, she is depicted as the Virgin Mary with her Christ child.



The scientific approach by Leonardo da Vinci

By 1420, artists revealed a scientific human form. Inspired by the dissection of human bodies, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) drew naked figures detailing anatomy and movements. His technique focuses on the idealization of the body rather than the observation of a single body.



The nude for Christianity

The shame of the unclothed bodies for the Judeo-Christian tradition comes from the story of the Fall of Man. By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve revealed the sinful nature of humans and the need to cover their flesh.

The Fall of the Damned, Dieric Bouts. About 1415-1475.

Representations of Jesus Christ, Saints, and biblical heroes provided moralized messages. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church censored sensual and flirtatious nude images as they were leading to sin.

Below, the representations are an example of provocative and seductive representations





Plan your visit

  • On view from October 30th to January 27th, 2019.
  • Location: Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049.
  • Cost: Free
  • Ask for a free audio guide.
  • Duration: I spent 2 hours to discover it.
  • Parking on site: $15 ($10 after 3pm).
  • More information available at


Want to see more from the Getty Museum?

Check out 7 reasons why I love the Getty Museum 

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